I thought National stood for development and jobs?

May 30th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Nick Smith has announced:

The application by Riverstone Holdings Limited to build and operate a $240 million monorail in Fiordland has been declined by Conservation Minister Dr Nick Smith.

“This proposal does not stand up either economically or environmentally. The independent tourism and financial analysis concluded it was not viable. There would be a significant impact on the area’s flora, fauna and natural heritage. The route is not sufficiently defined to properly assess the impacts,” Dr Smith says.

“Developments in an area with World Heritage status and which impact on the Fiordland National Park must meet the highest of standards and I have concluded that the risks of this proposal are too great.”

The Fiordland Link Experience proposed a new link between Queenstown and Milford Sound consisting of a 20-kilometre boat excursion across Lake Wakatipu to Mt Nicholas Station, a 45-kilometre all-terrain vehicle ride to Kiwi Burn, a 43.8-kilometre monorail ride to Te Anau Downs and a 90-kilometre coach journey to Milford Sound. The application included a lease, licence and concession for the monorail and related infrastructure through the South West New Zealand World Heritage Area including the Snowdon Forest and Fiordland National Park.

I think this is an incredibly disappointing decision. The monorail proposal would have provided a hugely enhanced visitor experience to tourists, and been a real boost to jobs and tourism. It did not go through Fiordland National Park, but merely neighbouring basic conservation land.

It wasn’t just going to be a monorail, but also have a mountain bike trail next to it (using the construction track), plus a catmaran link. Could you imagine a cool 40 km mountain bike trail into Te Anau Downs? Stunning.

I regard the reference to economic considerations to be a red herring. The job of the Conservation Minister should be to assess the environmental impact, not the business case. All that one needs to do is to have a condition that if the project fails, then there are sufficient funds held in trust to remove the infrastructure.

So that leaves the environmental considerations. Well two independent DOC officers (and DOC is hardly a hotbed of pro-development staffers) recommended that the consent be granted as the environmental impact was relatively minor (my words). So we have the Minister going more green than his own department. It’s what I’d expect from a Labour/Green Government – not National.

Incidentally my company Curia did a very small poll for the developer on public attitudes towards the proposal. The cost was tiny, and is not a factor in my views.

I don’t mind Governments being pragmatic, so long as their decisions still move New Zealand in the right direction. I don’t think this decision moves NZ in the right direction. I think it is a kick in the face for tourism and jobs. It will deter other operators from trying to get permission to do developments that boost tourism, if they think that their proposal won’t succeed regardless of the merits.

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A Haast-Hollyford toll road?

March 27th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Press reports:

The controversial $230 million Haast-Hollyford toll road is gaining momentum with its international investors visiting the West Coast this week to meet community leaders.

However, plans to apply for resource consent were on hold until a dispute was resolved over claims that part of the 136 kilometre proposed route was a paper road that officials illegally removed from maps nearly 40 years ago.

Two representatives from Australian-registered investment company JCP gave a breakdown of the road’s financial projections at a meeting at West Coast Regional Council yesterday.

John Lunbeck, a San Francisco-based JCP partner, said the new route would meet rapidly growing demand for access to South Island’s wilderness.

Its total cost was expected to be “no more than $230 million” but extra funding was available.

The toll fee would start at $35 per traveller, almost double the previously suggested $20 a head, and would generate about $30m in the first year, based on predictions of 800,000 to 900,000 travellers. That toll would increase by $5 every five years for 30 years and traffic was expected to grow by 6 per cent annually.

Haast Hollyford Highway chairman Durham Havill, a former Westland mayor and the road’s strongest proponent, told the meeting that the road would have huge benefits for the West Coast and Southland.

It would double West Coast tourism, provide 1500 construction jobs over its four-year build, shave 355 kilometres and four to five hours off the trip between Haast and Milford Sound and offer a new South Island tourist loop, he said.

I’d pay $35 for that in a second. Compare that to not spending five hours in a car – very cheap.

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Labour wants to ignore DOC advice

November 1st, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

NewstalkZB reports:

Too risky is Labour’s view on a monorail proposed between Queenstown and Milford.

Officials have advised the $200 million project be given provisional approval but the Minister of Conservation is still to make a decision on the scheme.

Labour MP Ruth Dyson is against the project saying the monorail will cut a swathe through significant areas of pristine beech forest and has the potential to cost Fiordland its World Heritage status.

“Frankly I think the combination of those things, plus the fact that tourists come to New Zealand for other reasons – they want the pureness of our country.

“I think the stakes are too high, we have too much at risk, and it should be declined.”

It is disappointing that Labour is going against the advice of two separate independent reports from the Department of Conservation. Both the Hearing Commissioner and the DOC Officers have said the project should be provisionally approved. These are reports from public servants whose job is to consider if the impact on conservation land would be too detrimental. I’m disappointed that Labour is saying DOC has it wrong in this case.

There is no risk to World Heritage status with this proposal – you have to be insane to actually believe that UNESCO would remove world heritage status from Fiordland because of a monorail.  And as I have said before the vast vast bulk of the monorail does not go through the National Park.  It goes through the Snowdon Forest Stewardship Area.

As for tourism, I have no doubt this would lead to many more tourists visiting Fiordland. A journey by catamaran and monorail, over bus, will appeal to lots of people. Also they are proposing that the road used to construct the monorail be turned into a mountain bike route also – again lots of people will want to do that.

The man who will have the final say is Nick Smith.

Yesterday he released official advice from DOC about the project, which recommends he give the green light.

But the Conservation Minister says he still has a lot more research to do before he makes his decision.

“There’s a bit of a commercial question as to whether this thing commercially will fly.

“And the reason that is concerning for me is that if it does fail I don’t want the department and the taxpayer being left with sort of a half built white elephant.”

I’ve touched on this before and I agree that is a concern. There should be some provision that money be set aside for it to be removed, if it does fail.

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Conservation Department recommends approval of Fiordland Monorail

October 30th, 2013 at 4:01 pm by David Farrar

Nick Smith has announced:

Conservation Minister Dr Nick Smith today inspected the site of the proposed Fiordland monorail, met with the applicants, and released official advice recommending he approve the project subject to extensive conditions.

“This ambitious $200 million project involves the building of the world’s longest monorail to enhance the experience of the hundreds of thousands of visitors travelling between Queenstown and Milford Sound,” Dr Smith says.

“I wanted to see for myself the areas affected by the construction of the two terminals and the 29.5-kilometre long, six-metre wide corridor that would be cleared to make way for the monorail through public conservation land. I also wanted to thoroughly scrutinise the impacts on the Snowdon Forest and its wildlife, as well as understanding the effects on the existing recreational users of the area.

“This monorail decision will be no easier than that of the Milford Tunnel. I am very protective of National Parks like Fiordland and this project has the advantage of being largely outside it. However, the monorail still requires clearance of a large area of forest on public conservation land.

This is a key point – that the monorail is almost entirely outside the Fiordland National Park itself.

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The monorail route

September 26th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

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Stuff has this image and a story. As one can see the route doesn’t go into Fiordland National Park itself. I think this shows that the opposition is motivated mainly by the fact it bypasses Te Anau. But just as I don’t think one should not build Clifford Bay to protect Picton, neither should you decline consent for this project to protect Te Anau.

I think many tourists would love to travel via catmaran, ATVs and monorail through the farm and conservation land there. Competition is good, providing a choice of routes.

Patrick Smellie writes on the proposal:

To recap: for $179, the Fiordland Experience would ferry 160-plus passengers 40 minutes from Queenstown up Lake Wakatipu to Mt Taylor station. There, they’d board a bus for a 40-minute jaunt up a farmed valley flanked by bare or beech-covered ranges. There are some farm buildings, the occasional car, and some prized angling spots up here, and a sense of the back country emptiness that lies just beyond the bustle of Queenstown. This is all either on public roads or involves concessions from private landowners.

The next part is trickier. From the buses, tourists would be decanted into the carriages of a rubber-wheeled, electric-powered monorail for a 41-kilometre trip terminating at the ageing Fiordland Lodge.

With a 6-metre-wide corridor and up to 2m off the ground, the monorail will be narrower than a roadway, its promoters claim, and won’t affect forest canopy during the 29km of this trip that crosses government-owned conservation land in the Snowdon Forest Park.

The Department of Conservation and the Fiordland Experience have spent years working out a low-impact route, which does – let’s face it – put a monorail through a forest. DoC will charge for the privilege.

A forest park is not a national park. Its legal and conservation status is much lower and, therefore, potentially more acceptable – at least on paper.

While the monorail also cuts across a corner of the Unesco-designated Fiordland World Heritage Area, that designation has no legal standing and also covers a vast swath of the West Coast, including townships and other existing tourist hotspots.

If anything, the area lacks the grandeur in less reachable parts of the region and the only encroachment on the highly protected Fiordland National Park is the lodge site itself.

So the monorail will be in the Snowdon Forest Park, not the Fiordland National Park. How many people had even heard of Snowdon Forest Park before today?

Smellie (who had his trip down there paid for by the promoters) has a useful suggestion:

Assuming Smith can get himself over the environmental, commercial and political hurdles – and that’s a big “if” – he should only contemplate permission subject to cast-iron commitments on both project funding and the removal of infrastructure in the Snowdon Forest Park in the event of its disuse. 

I think that is fair enough. No one wants a dis-used monorail sitting somewhere. But I think the proposed route would attract many tourists domestically and internationally, and if investors are prepared to spend $200 million of their own money making it happen they should be given the chance.

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Arguments for and against the Fiordland Monorail

September 17th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Bob Robertson puts the case for his proposed Fiordland monorail:

Tourism directly and indirectly employs more than 180,000 people and is worth $10 billion to our economy each year. We need to continue to innovate in our tourism offering and deliver on our marketing promise. We need new initiatives, ideally three or four of them, or we will lose our competitive edge.

The Fiordland Link Experience is one such initiative. Through a three-stage trip via catamaran across Lake Wakatipu, off-road vehicle on existing backcountry roads and monorail to Te Anau Downs, it would open up an area of spectacular beauty for people of all ages and all abilities.

It would show off the pristine Fiordland National Park without actually entering it, contrary to the perception opponents have deliberately fostered.

This is a key point, that I for one was surprised to learn.

We only need to look across the Tasman to see how a tourism development can be successfully achieved in a World Heritage area.

When the Cairns Skyrail was being proposed for the Barron Gorge National Park in the 1990s there were marches in the street and protesters attempted to block construction.

And the Skyrail today is one of the most popular attractions in the area. I’ve used it twice to see their magnificent park.

In New Zealand, there is an elitist sentiment among some that we should lock up our conservation estate for the few who are capable of physically reaching it. They believe business has no place in nature.

In reality, 44 per cent of the South Island is in the conservation estate and hosts about 2800 commercial concessions, including roughly 500 that are tourism or recreation-related.

It isn’t a question of either business or conservation. They can and do co- exist.

Even the Milford Track has huts on it, you don’t require people to sleep in tents.

We would not be committed to the Fiordland Link Experience if we did not believe the construction and operation could be achieved with only minimal impact on the environment and recreational users.

The reasoning is simple – we want to celebrate our nature and show it off. It is in our interests to protect nature, because that’s the experience we’re selling.

As a hunter and fisher who has spent thousands of hours in the surrounding area, I know there is room for a world- class tourism experience.

It will reinvigorate the tourism market in Fiordland, stimulate the economy, bring jobs and enable us to market the entire region, including Te Anau, to the world. All without a cent of taxpayer money.

I like the last point.

Bill Jarvie argues against:

The “experience” would not reduce the travel time for Milford Sound tourists. Once off-loaded from the monorail they would be bussed for another 1 1/2 hours to Milford. In one day they would endure a minimum of 12 changes of transport in a convoluted return trip.

That to me is not a reason to refuse consent. That’s a commercial issue for the operator. If few people want to change transport that often, then they won’t get many customers.

What has changed from inception is that the intended destination of the monorail is to the company’s hotel/restaurant site at Te Anau Downs, avoiding tourist-dependent Te Anau.

Te Anau is vibrant and superbly set up with international class hotels, award-winning motels and restaurants. It is the most appropriate destination en route to Milford Sound.

Again, that is a commercial not a conservation decision. The opposition is sounding more like economic protectionism than conservation.

In order to achieve the numbers, Riverstone would construct more than 29 kilometres of elevated concrete and steel monorail plus permanent parallel construction-maintenance roading through remote World Heritage forest and river valleys.

What Jarvie doesn’t say is that it doesn’t pass through the Fiordland National Park itself, and only around 2 hectares (a minuscule amount) of World Heritage area is impacted.

MR Robertson’s comparison with the Cairns Skytrail is amusing. The Skytrail is a leisurely traverse of the tree tops through what was already a developed landscape. Trees were specifically avoided, not felled.

Passengers can step out at mid- stations to experience the forest interior from boardwalks and lookouts, and spend time in an interpretation centre.

To meet its timetable the monorail ride would be at speeds up to 90kmh through a blur of forest interior.

Again, that to me is a commercial not a conservation decision. If people don’t want to travel on a fast moving monorail, they won’t.

There are already better means for tourists of all capabilities to experience what sets us apart from the rest of the world.

There are hundreds of non- destructive concessionaires, many of whom have been vocal in their opposition to this proposal.

Which again suggests to me, that economic protectionism is what appears to be driving some of the opposition.

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Milford Sound

December 31st, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

In Queenstown for New Years, staying with a friend. The last time I was here, I had the nonovirus and spent it in the bathroom of my hotel room. So far, has been much more enjoyable this time.

On Saturday headed to Milford Sounds on the Milford Sound Select Bus. Not normally a big bus person, but this was a great trip. The driver was superb – knowledgeable and friendly, and we had lots of stops for photos.

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On the road from Te Anau to Milford. Spectacular field. They must have shot some movie scenes here at some stage.

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The hills reflected at Mirror Lakes.

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Note the way the sign is written so it only makes sense in the reflection.

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A field of lupins.

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One of the many bush covered valleys heading into Milford Sound.

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A small waterfall.

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At one of the stops, there was a kea. He happily walked around in front of everyone and then without concern, jumped up onto a car behind and started nibbling at the rubber around their window.

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Mr Kea then jumped onto the roof for an even better perch.

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The lower end of the mighty chasm.

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And the upper end. Not a place to try going over in a barrel!

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At Milford Sound, we went out on a boat. It was pretty wet but the seals didn’t mind.

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A bit of rain on the lens, but still a nice shot of the greenery that grows on often sheer cliff faces there.

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Advancing towards the falls.

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And then the boat approaches them head on and pushes the bow just under the falls, nicely spraying those of us up on top.

Was a great day. I’ve been to Milford Sound a couple of times before, but it never gets old. Has reinforced my determination to do the Milford Track in the next couple of years.

On the bus trip back to Queenstown, they played The World’s Fastest Indian. I’d not got around to watching it previously. Was a very appropriate film to view in Southland.

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